My semi-annual movie rant
I could end the post right there, but I’ll try to expand on that theme.
Don’t take my word for it. Ask moviegoers why a film that came out in May (Iron Man 3) is still winning the summer box office. It’s not because it’s been out longer. (It opened to a huge $175M weekend.) It’s because the big blockbusters, costing hundreds of millions each, have gone down in flames the last three weeks: White House Down ($24M), Pacific Rim ($37M), and The Lone Ranger ($29M). This week, R.I.P.D. will probably do the same. I’ve been to only one movie this summer (This Is the End), and the only other movie I want to see this summer is The Butler. Despite having plenty of disposable income, it feels like I’m not the audience Hollywood is coveting.
I’ve done this rant before. It’s my grumpy old man “the-movies-were-better-in-my-day-now-get-off-my-lawn!” rant. It’s a classic. It goes something like this:
Let’s take a trip back to yesteryear to revisit the number one summer movies in decades past. These movies are #1 only by box office, and only represent summer releases:
- 1980 – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
- 1981 – Raiders of the Lost Ark
- 1982 – E.T.
- 1983 – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
- 1984 – Ghostbusters
- 1985 – Back to the Future
- 1986 – Top Gun
- 1987 – Beverly Hills Cop II
- 1988 – Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
- 1989 – Batman
Let’s just take a moment to reflect on how strong a decade that was. So many iconic films. And besides Star Wars (which was a franchise), only one sequel. We have archeologists, aliens, ghosts, time travel, fighter pilots, and one superhero. And give it up for one live action/animation mix. This was the golden age of imagination and art, unhindered by the corporate machine. Let’s try the 90s:
- 1990: Ghost
- 1991: Terminator 2
- 1992: Batman Returns
- 1993: Jurassic Park
- 1994: Forrest Gump
- 1995: Batman Forever
- 1996: Independence Day
- 1997: Men in Black
- 1998: Saving Private Ryan
- 1999: Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace
Here, we have a bit of a mixed bag. We see the creep of CGI reliance here with MIB, Independence Day, and Jurrassic Park. We also see the beginnings of the creativity-killing corporate culture with the Batman movies. And say what you want about Ghost, but can you imagine a romance winning the summer box office? Yet, overall, there is still outstanding originality and story-telling here. Now, let’s move on to what I consider to be the saddest decade ever in motion picture history:
- 2000: Mission Impossible II
- 2001: Shrek
- 2002: Spider-man
- 2003: Finding Nemo
- 2004: Shrek 2
- 2005: Star Wars II: Revenge of the Stith
- 2006: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
- 2007: Spider-man 3
- 2008: The Dark Knight
- 2009: Transformers 2
- 2010: Toy Story 3
- 2011: Harry Potter II: The Deathly Hollows
- 2012: The Avengers
- 2013: Iron Man 3
Okay, I’m not saying that these are bad movies, necessarily. I’m just saying that gone is originality and story telling. The only unique story telling is found in the children’s movies. The rest are all based on comic books, past movies, a best selling book, and an amusement park ride. And this is not to say that there have been no creative movies. Films like Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds, Memento, Juno, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Stranger than Fiction will continue to slip through the cracks. But they don’t make money, here or overseas, which makes it harder and harder for similar films to ever get financing again,
Hollywood has been taken over by the corporate bean counters who are only interested in overseas profits. Storytelling is out. Comedies are out if they won’t get the jokes in China. Explosions, superheroes, and car chases play in all languages and cultures.
Recently, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg sat down for a chat on the state of Hollywood, and they predicted an implosion. Spielberg remembered the good old days:
“It used to be, when I first started making movies it was really cool, my movies stayed in theaters for one year. If it was a hit, it was a year long. Raiders [of the Lost Ark] was in theaters for a year. E.T. was in a theater for a year and four months… That was an amazing situation, back then.”
But times have changed:
“You’re at the point right now where a studio would rather invest $250 million in one film for a real shot at the brass ring, than make a whole bunch of really interesting, deeply personal — and even maybe historical — projects that may get lost in the shuffle.”
Which led to this interesting exchange:
Spielberg: “There’s going to be eventually day and date with movies and eventually there’s going to be a price variance. You’re going to have to pay $25 to see the next Iron Man. And you’re probably only going to have to pay $7 to see Lincoln.”
Lucas: “I think eventually the Lincolns are going to go away and they’re going to be on television.”
Spielberg: “And mine almost was! This close. Ask HBO — this close!”
Then Lucas painted a picture where going to movies is more like going to a sporting even or Broadway show:
“What you’re going to end up with is fewer theaters. Bigger theaters, with a lot of nice things. Going to the movies is going to cost you 50 bucks, maybe 100. Maybe 150. And that’s going to be what we call ‘the movie business.’ But everything else is going to look more like cable television on TiVo. It’s not going to have cable or broadcast, It’s going to be the internet television.”
But here’s the good news. This, too, will pass.
“There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even half a dozen of these mega-budgeted movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm again.”
Like anything, life comes in cycles. There will be a return of creative freedom and great story telling. The industry is currently reeling in panic over fleeting DVD sales, crumbling business models, and slow recovery from the 2008 economic crash.
Lucas: “It’s a mess. It’s total chaos. But out of that chaos will come some really amazing things. And right now there are amazing opportunities for young people coming into the industry to say, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to do this and there’s nobody to stop me.’ It’s because all the gatekeepers have been killed!”
So, although we are currently in a creativity drought, you can’t keep the imagination of the human spirit from eventually raining down. It will find a way to come out. Right now, creative freedom and story telling is mostly found on cable TV. But I can’t wait for the day when it returns to the silver screen. Maybe then I’ll actually return to the theaters.